Monday, May 10, 2010

A Rambling Interview with Robert S. Napier, Part 1

You've all ordered your copies of The Toyman Rides Again, right? And you're waiting eagerly by the mailbox for it to arrive. Well, while you wait, let's take the first of several looks at the man behind the Jack Lorentz mystery series. First up, a bit of ancient history.

ME: Let's start with your shady past. The Almanack's readers know of your work with the 1969 fanzine Comickazi. Was that about the same time you were in APA-5? Tell us a bit about that.

BOB:  Comickazi came out in September of 1969. My friend, the late Bob Juanillo, got me interested in comic books. He had a large Marvel collection, Warren magazines and a bunch of crudzines on hand, too. Bad as they were, I found an appeal in those mimeo or ditto zines, an energy. I thought we could do better, though, so we cobbled together Comickazi. Bob was a genius and remarkable artist and his contribution really gave the zine whatever highlights it achieved. Bob's lovely wife Barbara helped with some of the production work and her presence added beauty to the joint. That tiny apartment also housed two cats, a rat, snakes, lizards, turtles, fish, and maybe more.

Unfortunately, Bob was sickly and shortly after Comickazi came out he had a bad spell. I had been crashing on a chaise in the living room of his one-bedroom apartment since May of that year and never laughed so much and so hard as I did during that time. But when he got sick I rarely laid eyes on him. I moved out in December and rarely saw him much after that. He died way too young; around 30 years of age.

In 1970 I started George. I was still interested in fanzines, but there was a trend that I didn't like - expensive zines with a lot of big name art and no editorial content at all, or very lame editorial content. Worse, a lot of those big name artist pieces were souvenir sketches, little squibs an artist whipped out in ten seconds. I thought a fanzine that reviewed other fanzines might be in order. I pitched the idea to G.B. Love at Multicon 70 in Oklahoma City, my first comic convention, and also talked to Jan Strnad about it. They both thought it was a good idea.

Back home, I raised the subject with my then-roommate, Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. He liked it, too. So I went through a few issues of RBCC (Rocket's Blast/Comic Collector), which was the big zine of the day and packed with ads, and ordered every fanzine I could find. After I had about 30 zines on hand I started writing reviews. Jan had agreed to write reviews, too, as did Jim. Jim's biggest contribution, however, was that he worked in a print shop and managed to sneak the job through for nothing. Getting free printing allowed me to charge ten cents an issue or three for a quarter. If we could hold it down to eight pages we could mail it for a six-cent stamp. George lasted ten issues over the course of a year. My life was undergoing some changes and I was unable to keep up the work involved, and even though Jim was picking up the slack on the production end, the supply end was suffering. Also, I thought I had a chance to go to Europe. So George died. I never have been to Europe.

I had been aware of apas since my first interest in comics but never saw one. I think it was in 1971 that I heard of APA-5, coming from Oregon, and applied. So did Jim. I stayed in for around five years but by then my rabid interest in comics, and my ability to buy them, was sinking fast. I joined a mystery apa in 1979 after what I call my lost years, and am still in it. About seven years ago I started a Western apa, which is still going strong.

ME: Are some of those APA-5 guys still active in comics or related circles?  And where in this Odyssey did you first come in contact with that notorious character known as Art Scott?

BOB:  Some of those APA-5 guys were Ron Harris (Star Trek newspaper comic, Crash Ryan comic book), Paul Chadwick (comic artist), Chris Warner (comic artist), and Frank Miller (comic artists and enfant terrible). The kingpin was Mark Verheiden (comics and TV writer). I met Art through Ron Harris. We were both in art class at Foothill Community College and got to talking. I learned he was a comics fan and knew about George, so he introduced me to Art and I introduced him to Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. That was about 1973. Both Art and Ron joined APA-5. It was a very talented group.

That's it for today. Bob reports that his issues of APA-5 now reside in the high-toned archives of the University of Iowa, but I found these covers (by Paul Chadwick) on the APA-5 Alumni Facebook page. If anyone has copies of George and would care to send me cover scans, I'll be pleased to unleash them upon the world.

More with Cap'n Bob soon, as he recounts his arrival on the mystery scene.  Be afraid.

11 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Great stuff, guys. Whatever happened to Ron Harris? I met him at Art's house the same year I met Dave, er, Evan, in San Francisco.

Richard Robinson said...

I sure do wish I'd had an idea this was all going on back then, but I guess I was too busy doing other stuff to notice. Other hand, how would someone know, unless they were part if the in group? I'm just glad I caught up with a few of these people later on.

Deka Black said...

Is always nice to read a interview like this with a author, not limited to his latest release.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

This guy is fascinating! More!

Richard Prosch said...

Great interview guys. Bob's right about the energy in those early zines.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Bill, Ron lives in L.A. but I have no idea what he's doing.

Richard R. said...

We're still on Part 1? I already this. Twice. Where's Part 2? Come on, hurry up!

Evan Lewis said...

Sorry, Napiermaniacs. Tomorrow we'll be featuring one of the lesser lights of mysterydom - some guy named Chandler - but Cap'n Bob has vowed to return.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

More on Ron Harris. He's in L.A. and works on storyboards for movies and TV. Been doing it for ages, as I recall.

Some Guy On the Internet said...

I'm married to one of Barbara's daughters, and the history here in invaluable to me, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Barbara "Juanillo"? Look me up on facebook....Im Bobby Juanillos niece....please let know more...thanks, Kristi